Salty Air

Five docs among fest highlights; Play It Again, Tim

Written by Tim Miller

Movies can envelop us in different worlds, and that’s certainly the case at this year’s Woods Hole Film Festival.

The 31st annual fest officially kicks off on Saturday, July 30, with pre-fest events starting Monday, July 25, and runs through Saturday, Aug. 6. Its films send you deep into the worlds of high school debate, blues music, surfing and fringe militia. They show what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes – an Army veteran with PTSD, a teenage girl desperate to escape her boring hometown, a husband and wife struggling to come to grips with terminal illness.

Those, of course, are just some examples. If you’re looking for variety, Woods Hole is the place. Screenings are in-person and online. (See below for contact information.)

Here are eight of the fest films I’ve seen so far that I recommend:

Debate club students work on their verbal delivery in a scene from Lucia Small’s documentary “Girl Talk.” (Small Angst Films Inc.)

Girl Talk”: Documentarian Lucia Small, whose work includes the first-rate “My Father, the Genius,” delivers another knockout. This time she turns her camera on female members of the highly successful Newton South High School debate team. In recording their experiences over a few years, Small shows the gender bias the girls must overcome, whether it’s being told their voice is “too feminine” or that they shouldn’t be too aggressive. What’s inspiring about Small’s subjects is how, rather than giving up out of frustration at the unfairness of it all, they work relentlessly to succeed (it’s remarkable the time and effort they put in), and we can see their personal growth as a result. ***½ (out of four)

The Thief Collector”: A Willem de Kooning painting stolen decades earlier from an art museum is discovered hidden in the home of Jerry and Rita Alter after they’ve died. Did this world-traveling couple steal it? And, if so, why? What other secrets were they keeping? These and many other questions about art and life’s choices are explored in this compellingly offbeat true-life crime documentary, with Glenn Howerton (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and Sarah Minnick (“Better Call Saul”) as the Alters in reenactments. ***½

The Yin and Yang of Gerry Lopez”: Skateboarder-turned-filmmaker Stacy Peralta (“Dogtown and Z-Boys”) presents an entertaining doc on Hawaiian-born champion surfer Gerry Lopez and his two lifetime passions: surfing and yoga. Through interviews with a laid-back (though highly competitive) Lopez and his contemporaries, and using footage of Lopez’s adventures, Peralta gives us a sense of the excitement and serenity that Lopez has found in pursuing this lifestyle. I imagine surf enthusiasts will eat this up – I haven’t been on a surfboard in my life, and I did.  ***½

Stranger Than Rotterdam With Sara Driver”: Checking in at under 10 minutes, this funny short tells the true story – using puppets – of how Jim Jarmusch’s producer and partner, Sara Driver, had to sneak a graphic documentary about the Rolling Stones to the Rotterdam Film Festival in order to help raise funds for Jarmusch’s first feature-length film, “Stranger Than Paradise.” Driver wrote and narrates the short, which features the same dry humor you might expect from anything related to Jarmusch. Directed by Lewie and Noah Kloster, it will screen as part of the “Art in Many Forms” shorts package. ***½

Bonnie Blue: James Cotton’s Life in the Blues”: The life and career of harmonica great James Cotton (1935-2017) is presented in this celebratory documentary, directed by Bestor Cram (“Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison”), produced by Cram and noted bluesman James Montgomery (who appears in the film), and executive produced by Judy Laster, director and co-founder of the Woods Hole festival. The film covers Cotton’s meeting at age 9 with Sonny Boy Williamson, his stints with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, and his later work as a solo act, with interviewees Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan and Steve Miller singing his praises. If you’re not a fan already, you likely will be after seeing this film. “Bonnie Blue” will screen in a special pre-fest showing on Thursday, July 28. ***½

A Stage of Twilight”: What would you do if you learned that you were about to die within three months? What would you do if your partner in life was about to die? Karen Allen and William Sadler star as a couple in their 70s who face tough choices in this emotional, thought-provoking drama, written and directed by Sarah T. Schwab. ***

Northern Shade”: Justin McLaughlin (Jesse Gavin), an Army vet tormented by his memories of war in Afghanistan, seeks his missing younger brother, and his search leads him to a dangerous militia group that’s planning a big strike. Writer-director Christopher Rucinski builds suspense and Romano Orzari portrays a sinister villain in this thriller. ***

Route 1 North”: Real-life siblings Annie Farrell and Isabelle Rose Farrell (who wrote and directed) play sisters Bee and Sarah, who head off on a road trip to find their long-estranged father, in this often funny comedy. Some of the film’s humor involving supporting characters seems forced, but the interactions between sarcastic teen Bee and rebellious older sis Sarah ring true while providing lots of laughs. ***

Chats with filmmakers

The festival will feature Zoom conversations with filmmakers at 10 a.m. from Monday, July 25, through Friday, July 29. Most of the participants will represent film shorts. I’m scheduled to moderate the Tuesday and Wednesday discussions.

More festival info:, 508-495-3456.

And in Hyannis …

Hyannis Film Festival will present the world premiere of “Unplayed Lullaby,” a drama filmed in Japan by writer-director Steven J. Martin, at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 28, at 529 Main St. A former teacher on the Cape, Martin has lived in Japan many years as an educator and a filmmaker.

I haven’t seen “Unplayed Lullaby” yet, but I did have Martin as a film student years ago, and, at the risk of sounding like James Corden, he’s brilliant. So I have good reason to have very high hopes for “Unplayed Lullaby.”

Martin and the film’s two leads, Kozue Ito and Nana Akuzawa, are scheduled to attend the Thursday night screening and the Q-and-A session afterward (moderated by yours truly). They also will appear at an admission-free morning-coffee conversation at 10 Tuesday, July 26, at Bread + Roses Cafe, 302 Main St., Hyannis, with festival co-founder William Farrell, a longtime arts reviewer and reporter, moderating.

Tickets for the Thursday screening: $20 in advance via; $25 at door.

More information:

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Cape Cod Wave Magazine covers the character & culture of Cape Cod. Please see our Longform stories.

Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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